Saturday, 24 March 2012

Epilepsy breakthrough in Belgian Shepherd Dogs

© Ulrik Fallström

Prof Hannes Lohi's research team at the University of Helsinki has already identified the first epilepsy gene for a late-onset symptomatic epilepsy in Miniature Wirehired Dachshunds (known as Lafora's) and last year, as reported here last July, found a gene associated with a transient idiopathic epilepsy in Lagotto Romagnolos.

Now, in a paper published yesterday in PLoS ONE, the team reveals that it may be close to finding a gene for idiopathic epilepsy in Belgian Shepherd Dogs, a condition that affects up on one in 5 of the breed.

Specifically, the Finnish researchers (working in collaboration with Danish, Swedish and American researchers in an EU-funded project ) have identified a small region on chromosone 37 which, if homozygous (ie if a dog inherits two identical copies of it - one from each parent) increases the chance of epilepsy seven-fold.

It's good news for Belgian Shepherd Dogs... and also good news for other dog breeds as it's thought that the discovery could help in the research of epilepsy in other breeds, too. The prevalence of epilepsy in purebred dogs is estimated to range from 0.5% to 1%. However, in some breeds there is a strong suspicion of an underlying genetic factor as there is an accumulation of epileptic individuals within families with an incidence as high as 20%. 

There is more work to be done before a DNA test is available, but given the team's previous record this is hopefully just a question of time.

23 comments:

  1. I can't tell you what GOOD NEWS this is for my beloved breed - now we can begin the task of breeding away from this horrible condition

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  2. Epilepsy seems very common in Jack Russells too.

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  3. Is anybody doing similar research for Irish Setters, another breed who have problems with epilepsy?

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  4. I think more attention needs to be paid to the role of diet in many health problems but particularly with regard to epilepsy.
    John B.Symes, D.V.M. has presented a good few papers to the American Holistic Vets Conference - http://dogtorj.com/what-is-food-intolerance/food-intolerance-epilepsy/

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    1. We have a large mix breed dog with idiopathic epilepsy, and have been through several medications and treatments after initial diagnosis. Finally, on our own, through online research we tried a raw diet with organic all meat dog treats, and found improvement in frequency and severity of seizures almost immediately. We love our vet, but no vet we saw ever recommended this, and yet it has worked for us more so than any medication, in fact the medications she went through made her frequency higher (kept her in a groggy more susceptible state)

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  5. I hope DNA tests are found soon as we know epilepsy can run in families of dogs and currently producing an elipeptic dog from your line can wipe out years and years of good breeding (and shrink gene pools). Two friends have recently had epileptics (in different breeds from thoroughly health tested working lines) and it has been devastating for the breeders.
    Yes food, drugs, vaccines, modern life have their part to play but genetics does too.
    VP

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  6. Having just lost my beloved Irish Setter to this condition, I hope the DNA test is not too long in coming. This is great news.

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    1. I lost my Irish Setter, (dog) at three years old four years ago to this dreadful condition. Various medication was tried but he didn't respond and was eventually fitting every three of four days, sometimes four fits in twenty four hours. He no longer had any quality of life and the end was inevitable....... but there was no history of epilepsy in his breeding lines that I, or his breeder, could trace.

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  7. I hope the news continues to be good going forward. When the DM gene was isolated in Pems, the test proved to be of little value because while the disease seems to affect dogs in percents in the single digits, the gene is carried by around 90% of the population; breeding away from it would create a genetic bottle neck and invite other, possibly worse problems into a generally healthy gene pool. So here is hoping that the gene turns out to be relatively rare, rather than exceedingly common, in the impacted breeds. In the case of DM, it appears there must be other modifier genes at work. Some disease turn out to be polygenic rather than simple dominant or recessive.

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  8. In Miniature Wire Haired Dachshunds, we are in the middle of work with a Canadian hospital, where they research Lafora disease in children. They have perfected a blood based test for Affected / carrier / clear and are hoping to develop a saliva based test from that. We have just sent the first 35 samples of blood from min wire dachshunds. This is, hopefully the first step to a full test that will be compulsory for all breeders. That is the ultimate goal.

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  9. And, I might point out that much of this research was able to be done because of the contribution of blood, tissue and DNA samples from breeders of PUREBRED DOGS. I have an epileptic dog and contributed blood and DNA and tissue when she was spayed to the U. of Missouri. I don't see the owners of mutts stepping up to the plate on these issues but they are only too glad to reap the rewards.

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    1. Excuse me, but many DNA based studies want purebred dogs only. I looked in vain for a study to contribute to when one of my mixed breeds got cancer. They wanted only purebred dogs, and not in his breed makeup, for that type of cancer.

      The reason that scientists love purebred dogs so much is because they are so genetically similar. Looking for a marker associated with disease is much, much easier in an inbred population with low genetic diversity than in a outbred population, like human beings, or mixed breeds, with high genetic diversity.

      Although it is indeed useful that it is easier to find genetic disease markers in purebreds, it is not necessarily something to be proud of, and it does not mean that owners or breeders of mixed breed dogs are somehow inferior to purebred dogs or their owners.

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    2. I do not know much about research. However, there has to be a control group. It is nothing to do with inferior or superior breeds.For example; the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket is working hard and using Border Collies as a 'control group' for Epilepsy research. This does not mean that Border Collies are more prone to this awful disease, or indeed inferior or superior as a breed. As you pointed out it is easier to find genetic markers in purebreds. Can I plead as one who has recently lost a young Border Collie to Epilepsy,to approach the AHT if their dog, regardless of its breed, develops a disease in case a study is being made.

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  10. I recognise that many people who own purebred dogs are often very committed to their breed and help with research. But given that very often it is their breeding practices that have led to dogs in their breed with a high incidence of some or other condition, I do not believe that sainthood should be conferred upon them.

    In the world in which I live, many people have both purebred and mixed breed dogs, loved and cared for with equal passion. There is not the "them" and "us" that you're alluding here to.

    And, tell me, just how useful, exactly, do you think mutt DNA is to gene hunters?

    Jemima

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    1. But isnt that the general thought among the fancy? That a dog without a pedigree isnt really a dog? And an owner who has a dog without a pedigree cant really count themselves as a dog lover or someone with knowledge of dogs?
      That is surely why us mere mortals arent allowed to have an opinion on canine health and welfare? Why we are simply described as animal rights activists when we raise our heads.

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    2. I think the DNA of known first generation crosses may be very useful. I also think that disease incidence in known crosses would be useful information.

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  11. I was sorry to read on Exclusively Setters that although research has been set up in Holland to locate a gene for epilepsy in Irish Setters, so far they have been unable to get enough DNA samples from Irish Setter owners

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    1. Correction, I believe the research into epilepsy in Irish Setters is in Finland, but the Irish Setter Club in Holland asked their members to provide DNA samples for the Finnish research, which is also supported by the Irish Setter Club in Finland. I believe they have been trying to get sufficient DNA samples since around 2008.

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  12. I've had 3 Border Collies (2 were rescues) and learned through our national club in the USA that they are the #1 breed for epilepsy. This surprised me, as there are about 20,000 BCs registered with the American equivalent of ISDS every year vs. maybe 200-300 registered with AKC (of which about half are show lines, half are ISDS dogs being registered in order to do agility & obedience).

    But when I looked at a table of ISDS popular sires (http://www.palado.demon.nl/bcdb/popdogs.htm), I found that working people are even more guilty than show people of over-using a sire. Many on this list have sired over 200 puppies. I know a few ISDS sires have sired over 1000 puppies in their lifetimes.

    Every single Border Collie on earth since 1992 (and most of them before that) has the dog "Wiston Cap" in its pedigree. Talk about inbreeding--and this is the poster child breed for the working dog. No wonder epilepsy so easily got into the breed.

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    1. I am not sure what Border Collie Breed Club you are talking about, I do not recall the ABCA every saying that, it sounds like you mean the AKC (kennel club) breed club.
      However can you please site the evidence that border collies are ranked #1 for Epi? Some breeds have a rate of 30% and I am very sure that more than 30% of the border collies I have know in over 30 years with the breed did not have epi. The only report I have heard of where border collies were # 1 was at a uni where their owners were seeking advanced level care for their dogs. I do not think that means or proves that the breed over all has a the highest rate of epi of all breeds.

      As for the topic of working border collies and inbreeding, there is a big push right now from folks who have show, pet and sports bred border collies or are breeding their show, pets or sports dogs, to go after the working border collie. Most have limited number of years experience in the breed and even then it is with show, pets or sports dogs. Yet they call for a change in how working breeders breed their dogs.

      I think the real problem is the breeding of border collies for the pet sport or show ring and still wanting to call their dogs working dogs and want to group all these dogs together with the real working dogs.

      However, to address popular sire...
      Yes some trial dog breeding programs sometimes do suffer from over use of popular sires but fortunately they are not the only breeding programs for working dogs. Many working dog breeders avoid using popular sires or avoid using lines they do not personally know. Then their are the show, sports and pet breeders who also like to put a big name in the pedigree to make their dogs sound like they are still working dogs (we have all seen this). So the breeding programs found in ABCA or ISDS are mixed and varied and can not be lumped together to be used as simple statement about in breeding in working dogs to be thrown around on chat groups.

      To address the claims higher levels of inbreeding in working border collies than in kennel club show breeding programs...

      In the working dog’s pedigree there is not usually intentional close inbreeding or deliberate line breeding to fix working traits like there is in in show dog breeding to set appearance traits. Most attempts at this type of inbreeding have failed and it is not a popular idea to most breeders. In recent times I can only think of one person who’s background is show and sports dogs who is recommending inbreeding for working dogs and I would say that few working breeders listen to him on any topic.

      The COI of working border collies in ISDS covering all generations going back to 1906 is around 6% which is very low for that period of generations/time. COI is usually around 1.5% or less for 6 generations, which is considered low and is not a high amount of inbreeding. My personal dogs are all less than 1% and most under 0.5% COI for 6 gen. You may be able to find a kennel club breed with inbreeding this low but I do not know which breed that might be. Certainly the level of in breeding in working border collies as a breed would be low in comparison to most if not all kennel club breeds.

      Also neither of these stud books ISDS or ABCA are closed nor have ever been closed, new dogs can and do gain entry by the ROM process or other outside approved registries for working dogs, again a great difference from the kennel club’s normal insistence on KC purebreds only.

      Unfortuanalty as so many people breeding border collies today are not breeding working dogs and so many people who want to buy or own border collies have no intention of using their dog for stock work, there is bond to be a slide towards the problems found in the kennel club, it is bond to happen when work stops being the focus. The border collies has in many ways been taken over by pet, show and sports owners/breeders in the past 20 years. It is possible that it is time to split the working registries and re-establish them as true registers for working dogs again.

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    2. Just wanted to make note of the comment that only 200-300 border collies are registered in AKC per year. (I think you are wrong with your numbers, but just in case you are right)

      I went to look for this on the AKC web site but could not find any recent statistic, I had heard that they stoped publishing registration stats due to a rapid decline in numbers so perhaps this is true.
      I did find the last date published for the border collie which was 2006 and the number of dogs registered that year was 2100.
      This means the Kennel club registered border collies in the US was at about 10% of the total US population of border collies in 2006, but has since dropped all the way down to around 1% of the total border collie population in the US!!!
      The 99% remainder would be registered in ABCA the working register. Wow if this is true this is great news. I would like to congratulate all those border collie owners who have decided to stop registering their working breed the border collie in the show register! Well done and it sure brings a smile to my face!!

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    3. Our dogs are ABCA. The dogs we have don't look anything like a show dog; shorter coats, leaner, yellowish eyes were the first things I noticed when comparing them. Some even have floppy ears. Looked to make sure, Winston isn't on any of our dogs pedigrees. The other nice thing about working lines is that they generally will breed a good dog with a good dog. There isn't a always competition to get the best. If s/he gets the job done and is healthy then s/he is a good candidate. Can cause local inbreeding over time, but that's more easily fixed then the problems the show dogs have. A dog with epilepsy would not be bred because it couldn't work.

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